I wanted to write this in June. However, since I’m me, it’s just a little late. People are lighting fireworks in the street, and the rainbow displays in stores have been replaced with red, white and blue. You can tell because Facebook no longer has a “pride” reaction. Because that’s what it’s about, right? Rainbow t-shirts and plastic rainbow shot glasses and rainbow reacting to pictures of white dudes kissing because “heck yeah, I support LGBT whatever.” In June. But this is July. July is for stripes and stars and ‘merica. Just ask the random stranger sitting in the next booth at the restaurant the other day.
My partner had a rare bit of cash and decided to treat the family to lunch. This can be a difficult prospect, between my son’s Celiac and my partner’s son’s general pickiness, but we managed to find a restaurant that worked for everyone, despite having to remake my child’s order and the server, hostess and manager all misgendering him.
Normally, my child doesn’t care what pronouns people use. He describes his gender as “male-ish” and says he’s fine with any pronouns, but prefers he/him. On this particular July day, he was wearing a pink My Little Pony t-shirt, longish blue shorts, and his favorite sparkly pink sandals. His hair was in a messy afro and he had a small scratch next to his eye, from the cat trying to groom him. He’s a friendly, outgoing 10-year-old, and he let most of the “she’s” slide, but corrected the third person who addressed him that way.
As we were leaving the restaurant, the man at the next booth pulled my partner aside and let him know that my child had used the men’s restroom, so we might want to keep an eye on “her.” My partner simply explained that my child is a boy and the man had little to say. In all honesty, his intentions were probably good. He probably felt he was looking out for a vulnerable little girl, saving her from the potential horrors of seeing penises. On the other hand, we live in a society where people pay enough attention to where other people pee that they feel a need to report when they pee in the “wrong” place. I worry a lot about what this means for adults who, like my child, don’t fit neatly into one gender. What it means for my child in a few years, when people don’t see a cute little kid anymore. July is hard.
In June, I took that same child to his first Pride Celebration (in his memory, at least). A few weeks earlier, I told him about it, and mentioned, offhand, that some people like to dress up. He immediately started to plan his outfit. The next time we went to the library, he checked out a book about the history of Pride. He shared facts and was shocked at the historical oppression of LGBTQ+ people. We talked about how it started as a riot, and is now a big, family-friendly party.
We collected pieces for his outfit.
The day of Pride, we had a birthday party earlier in the afternoon. Normally, two major events in one day is too much, but he persisted. After the birthday party, he changed into his outfit- a pink tank top with rhinestones, a purple tutu, brightly colored leggings, and, of course, the pink sparkly sandals. My partner’s son, who is as cis-boy as can be, was confused, saying he’d never seen anyone-regardless of gender- wear a tutu in public. He didn’t want to go, so it was just the two of us. As we pulled up to the Portland waterfront, we saw a group of people and their dogs, all in rainbow tutus. “Awesome!” was my son’s commentary on this and many other things we would see.
His first mission was to acquire a rainbow flag. It was very important to him to let everyone know that he supports LGBTQ+ rights, that he doesn’t even understand why anyone questions others’ rights to be treated fairly, to be treated like the humans they are, and the rainbow flag is the most visible way to do so. Also, bright colors. Outside the festival entrance, a cart was selling flags and shirts, but they were out of the ones he wanted. I did buy myself a rainbow “resist” tank top, because I felt strangely underdressed in black. Eventually, we found a Pride flag, and then we spent a few hours wandering around, collecting swag, playing games, talking to people, and just existing. The live music was right in the middle, and it was too loud. I held his shoulders and guided him through as he covered his sensitive ears. Nearly every other spot was selling or promoting something – really great LGBTQ+ and other community resources alongside banks and sportswear. I collected a few brochures, and he begged for a rainbow fidget spinner.
One or two people still called him “she,” but when he corrected them, they accepted it without any confusion or judgement. Eventually, he found a table with pronoun stickers, and chose both “he/him” and “they/them.” After that, everyone used the correct pronoun. By the end of the day, he was hot and exhausted and very ready to go home. But so content. Although he rarely struggles with making friends, or cares much what others think, he had found a space where he could be himself completely, with no fear of judgement. Where there were others like him. Where he was his own awesome person, and not a curiosity, or an anomaly, or a question. Even as we left the festival and made our way back to the suburbs, strangers on the Max smiled at us and wished us a happy Pride.
But June is over and we’re back to “normal.” Back to real life, whatever that means. The rainbows are on clearance and the pervasive message is that their time is over. And I know that in September, he probably won’t feel comfortable wearing his favorite skirt to school. That he’ll have to carefully consider whether his favorite pink sandals are worth risking being called names or worse at his new school. I know that adults I love are afraid that if they are themselves, they won’t be able to get or keep jobs. That they might lose their rights to marry their loved ones and have children together. Or, in some cases, to live.
It took almost 50 years for the Stonewall riots to evolve into the strangely corporate carnival Pride is today. To say we’ve come a long way would be a ridiculous understatement. Yet, LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. 82% of LGBT teens report being bullied in the last year. Politicians across the country are proposing bills to legislate where trans people can pee. Trans people, especially trans women of color, are being murdered. Being accepted in June isn’t enough. We need to create more safe spaces where kids like mine can be themselves without worrying about how people will react. We need to see them for the amazing humans that they are, even when they don’t fit neatly into specific categories. And we need to fight for them. Not just in June, but also in July and August and every day.
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